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Further Confusion 2016!

Fandom 150Folks, it’s that time again — the time when downtown San Jose is suddenly flooded with bizarre people descending onto the Convention Center to engage their weird hobby. The volleyball girls are back! Oh, and also Further Confusion is coming up this weekend.

Of course I’ll be there — just look for the portly black dude probably wearing a sweater vest and a backpack and some sort of jackalope badge. I’m really looking forward to meeting lots of you coming from all around the country, or hooking up again with friends I haven’t gotten to see for a while, or chatting with fans about the things that we love and care about. It should be a blast!

One of the best things about Further Confusion is the robust slate of panels, seminars and events that encompass almost every aspect of the furry fandom — art, writing, music, performance, science, spirituality and crafts are all well-represented there. As a writer, I’ll be on a few panels this time and I wanted to tell you about them, just in case you were interested!

THURSDAY, JANUARY 14TH
OUT OF POSITION Release Party (Marriott: Almaden) – 7 PM
My good friend Kyell Gold will be releasing the latest novel in his Out of Position series — Over Time — at the convention! His release party will be pretty awesome, and one of the best ways to kick off a weekend-long party is by celebrating a friend’s success. The book won’t be available for sale there, alas, but he’ll be there to chat and sign things, so it really is the next best thing.

FRIDAY, JANUARY 15TH
Power and Privilege in an Anthropomorphic World (Hilton: Santa Clara) – 1 PM
I’ll be talking about how to illustrate the societal effects of different species co-existing within the same world with Chipotle and my husband, NotTube. I’m really excited about this topic; it’s not necessarily all about how power dynamics from the real world translate into our fictionalized furry ones, but what a whole different set of dynamics borne from the traits of vastly different species might look like. Would carnivores really dominate the power structure? How would physical characteristics shape the world? And what advantages would humans have once we lose opposable thumbs and sapience?

Write Now! (Hilton: Santa Clara) – 3 PM
Kyell Gold and I will be talking about ways to think about the shape of your short story with an eye towards finally sitting down and banging it out! We’ll break down the basic elements of your story — what you’ll need to get started, most of the time — and then providing 30 minutes to work on it using the tools you have at your disposal. How generous!

SATURDAY, JANUARY 16TH
Mindfulness and Transformation in Action (Marriott: Almaden) – 11 AM
Kannik and I will be discussing the transformative power of bringing mindfulness into your life. We’ll talk a bit about our perspective and background working with it, discuss examples illustrating exactly how clear and present thinking can redirect negative experiences, and engage in a brief meditation session and a few exercises to give folks a feel for using it. This is always one of my favorite times at the convention; I look forward to it every year.

Furries and the “Other” (Hilton: Santa Clara) – 4:30 PM
Here we’ll be discussing how the concept of “otherness” applies to furry — or if it even does! Mapping real-life social and political differences to furry fiction is an interesting thing; there’s often not a direct parallel, but what can we learn from the way divisions are drawn? What does that say about us as creators and readers? I’ll be talking about this with Mary Lowd and Chandra al-Alkani.

SUNDAY, JANUARY 17TH
Brainstorming in Real Time (Hilton: Santa Clara) – 11 AM
One of the biggest things I’ve learned in writing last year is to always try out multiple answers to the question “And then what?” Your first answer is going to be the most common one, and the further out you go with ideas the more creative opportunities open up! Even ideas you instinctively discount can be the best ideas you have for really pushing your story into new territory. My writing group — Chipotle, Kyell Gold, NotTube and myself — will be hosting this panel detailing the brainstorming process and how you can use it to your benefit.

Unsheathed Live (Hilton: Santa Clara) – 10 PM
To close out the convention, the adult writing podcast is all set to go for another year! Kyell, KM Hirosaki and NotTube will talk about furry writing for adults, take audience questions and probably have a lot of wine. This is always a blast, and I’m really looking forward to going out on a high note with FC 2016!

So that’s my schedule! Feel free to join me at any of these panels or say hello if you see me bumming around the convention. I’ll even have business cards for the Jackalope Serial Company! Whoo!!

See you at the San Jose Convention Center this weekend, folks. It’s going to be legendary!

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2016 in Furries

 

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(Personal) Three Pounds of Flax

Buddhism 150A monk asked Tozan when he was weighing some flax: “What is Buddha?”
Tozan said: “This flax weighs three pounds.”

It is so impossibly hard to do one thing at a time in this day and age. As I sit to write this, I’m thinking about a number of other things — the 500 words I promised myself I would write on a short story, populating the latest to-do app with all of the steps I’ll need to take to finish all of my projects, the salmon in the oven, the vegetables on the stove, the friends who are hurting very far away, the people who dislike me. It’s difficult to consistently bring my attention to the present, to the words I’m writing right now. Why is that?

We live in a time of instant gratification. If we want to know something, most of us who are reading this have a way to look it up instantly. A lot of us are lucky enough to be able to buy something we want — if even only for a fleeting moment — just as fast. All we have to do is go to a website, click a few buttons, and expect that what we want will arrive in a few days. This is a wonderful time, but it also means that we’ve lost the ability to wait for things, to be uncomfortable, to anticipate something we’ve worked or waited long for.

Don’t worry — I’m not going to spend this entire post talking about how instant gratification has ruined our ability to actually enjoy the moment. But it has hindered it. Because we can get so much done so quickly, it’s easy to take care of business and move on to the next thing without thinking about it. Sometimes we’re already thinking about the next thing before we’ve even finished the thing we’re currently doing.

I’ve fallen into this trap. There are so many things I’d like to do, and there are only so many hours in the day I can do them. While I’m at work, I’m thinking about all of the writing I could be doing. While I’m home watching TV, I’m thinking about writing, or email, or work, or studying. While I’m writing, I’m thinking about all of these other projects. I’d like to try to send Christmas cards this year, and there’s a limited amount of time that I can actually put that together. Same with Christmas presents. Same with any Kwanzaa plans I’d like to organize.

My life has been filled to the brim, which makes it difficult for me to find enough space to take a breath. Those breaths are absolutely necessary for orientation; they give me a sense of perspective about how far I’ve come, how far I have to go, allow me to enjoy the distinctive place in which I find myself. I’ve spent a very good part of these last few months rushing around, trying to get things done, but not enjoying the process of doing them.

The koan at the top of this post is one that I use to center myself often; Buddha nature is three pounds of flax, no more and no less. Buddha nature are these words that I’m writing, the feeling of my fingers on the keys, the sound of video game music in my ears. It is here and now. That’s it.

Because I’ve made such great strides in determining what’s been blocking me from being productive this year, the anxiety I had about my ability to do things has been replaced by a different anxiety — one in which I’d better be doing things all the time. When I try to step back to think about all of the things that I have to do, it makes me think that any time wasted is another goal that won’t be met.

This month, I would like to take a moment and focus on the three pounds of flax. I’d like to re-center myself so that I’m fully engaged in what I’m doing. It might mean that I’ll be doing less, but hopefully it also means that I’ve invested so much more of myself in what I do achieve. Stripping away the distractions that surround me all the time to give myself over entirely to a project for a certain length of time is the only way to really enjoy the process of working.

I know how difficult this might be to pull off. December is a frenzied time of the year; we’re trying to manage our daily lives — which are full enough — while also trying to find and buy presents, send cards, prepare for parties and Christmas itself, decorate our homes and trees, prepare for New Year’s…the list goes on. This year I’m trying to do quite a bit more than I ever have before; I have a feeling a strong sense of organization, a great to-do list and a determined, efficient managing of my time is a necessity to make it to the next year without completely losing my mind.

But first, I have to make sure that I only focus on one thing at a time. First, the blog; then, a breath; then, the next project. So on, and so on, taking pleasure in the doing and completion of each task. The holidays provide an excellent opportunity to practice mindfulness and embrace single-tasking. It’s high time I took it.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2015 in Buddhism, Self-Reflection

 

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Combatting Mindlessness with Personal Myth

Buddhism 150When I’m not pretending to be a giant rabbit who writes fiction on the Internet, I work at a services company where I deal with customers all day. The nature of our business is such that people often mistakenly believe we’re responsible for things that we aren’t, so it’s not uncommon for me to get calls from an irate stranger demanding that I change something I have no control over.

I would love to be able to say that my meditation and Buddhist practice enables me to respond in a calm and present manner to these calls, but I can’t. It’s times like these when the lizard brain takes over — often, I’m confused about why I’m being screamed at, and that makes my chest tighten and my heart beat faster. I’ll try to tell the caller why it’s not my fault they’re in this situation, which if I were thinking clearly I would realize is the wrong tack to take. Then an argument ensues, and all that matters is gaining the upper hand. For me, a ‘win’ would be getting the caller to drop their accusation of responsibility and go elsewhere. It doesn’t matter whether or not they’re frustrated or feel like they’ve been helped. As long as they stop being angry with me, specifically, that’s what matters.

When I’m rational, I know that this isn’t a personal thing. I’m merely the most convenient face for a problem that someone has, and since I’m on the front line as it were I’ll bear the brunt of the negativity for some people. But it’s really difficult to remember that as it’s happening; that the person repeating “What are YOU going to do about it?” in your ear again and again isn’t speaking of a literal ‘you’. At that moment, you’re a representation of your work place, an entire company given a voice.

I’m not sure if you would have guessed it or not, but I like to avoid conflicts whenever possible. Part of it is I don’t like the stress that a conflict brings, but another part of it is the knowledge of my own temper. It’s a quick one, and I’ve learned a while ago to disengage myself from a situation that sparks it — chances are it’ll die down quickly and I can come at it reasonably later. Obviously, this isn’t an option when there’s someone on the phone with you, refusing to give you space until you resolve a problem that you just can’t solve.

But see, this is why you meditate. The feeling that you get on the bench, when you’re just breathing, is meant to be carried with you through the rest of your life. If you can remember, all it takes is a few breaths to bring you back to mindfulness, to remember who you are and what you’re doing, to take an approach to the situation that’s less instinctive and more helpful.

I ended up raising my voice to the caller the last time it happened. He was especially pushy, demanding that something be done and using the time-honored “repeat yourself in a louder voice” to control the conversation. I admit, I was flustered. I took it personally and handled it poorly. At that moment, all of my meditation training went out the window. I played his game, and lost.

If I had taken just a few breaths, I would have realized the truth of the situation. He was painting me as an enemy, an obstacle to a desired outcome, but I’m really not. Instead of allowing myself to be placed into that role I could have side-stepped that relationship entirely. I could have said, “No, I’m a friend, let me help you any way I know how.” While I don’t have direct control over the situation, I could have come up with a somewhat workable solution with just a little thought. But it’s hard to think straight when you’re running on adrenaline.

One of the things that I’ve tried to do is tell a story of myself that runs closer to the person I would like to be. I suppose this is an advanced version of ‘faking it until you make it,’ but hopefully it will be useful. As I move through my day, I tell myself that I’m a friend to everyone, even the people that would rather not see me. I tell myself that I’m helpful, generous, kind, attentive, compassionate. I construct a myth of myself — a rabbit who is an Avatar of Comfort, dedicated to putting everyone around him at ease. It doesn’t always work, of course — sometimes I forget myself and then I’m just David, grumpy and harried, who’d rather get back to whatever it was he was doing instead of being patient and helpful. But that’s OK. People fail to live up to the myths about them from time to time, but it shouldn’t stop them from striving for it.

That’s one of the ways I ‘access my totem’, I suppose. I marry my vague, animist spirituality to my Buddhist practice, so that my idealized self, the picture of myself at enlightenment, is a rabbit that radiates calm and peace. I’m not sure if there’s a name for that sort of thing (besides insanity), but it helps, when I remember to let it.

Does anyone else do this? What sort of stories do you tell yourself, about yourself, to encourage you to be a better person?

 

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